‘May you be half an hour in heaven afore the Devil knows your dead’ – this message scrawled on a tea towel hanging from the wall could not have been more pertinent as the audience took their seats in the New Theatre to watch Martin McDonagh’s black comedy The Beauty Queen of Leenane.
We were ushered into the claustrophobic conditions of Mag (Cressida McGill) and Maureen Folan’s (Liz Stevens) decrepit kitchen, complete with actual sink and oven. Seated in a thrust formation, this Irish tale of a bitter and twisted old crone and her long-suffering yet flawed daughter is an intense insight into the pressures and difficulty of living in a deeply rural community. Maureen is desperate to escape her demanding mother Mag, a woman who delights in disposing of her nightly chamber pot in the kitchen sink, and is offered a ray of hope in the shape of Pato Dooley (Alex Hollingsworth), a local suitor. His brother – Ray (Ben Williamson)- acts as an unwilling conduit between the pair, and is easily manipulated by the jealous Mag who undermines and confuses Maureen’s plans; cementing her own fate in the shocking conclusion.
The cast expertly command the razor sharp script, particularly Cressida McGill and Liz Stevens. Their thick Irish brogues delivered at blistering speed make the first five minutes of the performance almost incomprehensible. Insults, grim tales and discussions on the merits of Kimberly biscuits are mentioned within the same breath, emphasising the collision between the humorous and deeply unsettling which makes this play so affecting.
Director, Ellie Cawthorne truly brings the very essence of rural Ireland into the New Theatre, faithfully creating a snapshot of a life filled with fear, isolation and familial violence. Alex Hollingsworth and Ben Williamson give solid performances as the irresponsible male figures; Williamson in particular exuding the air of an arrogant schoolboy with better things to do.
It is the women in this performance however who truly shine. McGill and Stevens both seem to completely inhabit their characters; Stevens with the aid of a top class ‘Croydon-facelift’ and a lolloping gait; and McGill with an impressive display of vocal and physical talents. The pair are both in turn painfully frail and empowered. Maureen and Mag arrive on the stage as an institution and, supported by the rest of the cast and the excellent set and lighting design, proceed to instantly envelop the audience into their created world.